Reviews of children's literature written for teachers. Each book is considered for its potential to support learning across the curriculum as well as how it might support children's language and literacy development.
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster by Joanna Nadin
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster contains three adventures starring Penny Jones, a girl who comes up with plenty of ‘brilliant’ ideas. Each story is a complete story in itself. Penny Dreadful isn't her real name, it's a nickname given to her by her father. Her gran says she is a ‘Magnet for Disaster’ and certainly in these three stories she lives up to both descriptions. This is because Penny's 'brilliant' ideas frequently don’t turn out in the way that she planned and usually have disastrous consequences. With the help of her best friend Cosmo, Penny manages to superglue her cousin Georgia May Morton-Jones to the carpet, steal a dog and amaze the school inspector.
These are fun stories that read aloud well and are supported by lively illustrations by Jess Mikhail. Children in years 2 and 3 will enjoy reading about Penny's disasters. The themes of the stories are similar to those in Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry and David Roberts' Dirty Bertie, but this time the protagonist is female. However, due to the style of writing, children will need to have developed a little more reading confidence to read these books independently than either the Horrid Henry or Dirty Bertie series.
It is very difficult not to love Penny Dreadful as she hurtles from one disaster to the next. The books are narrated in the first person and Penny chats away unstoppably and is so utterly believable. The stories are fast-paced and the style in which they are written enhances the character of Penny. Each of the characters are quirky and loveable in their own way. The storytelling is only broken up by the equally quirky and perfectly matched illustrations provided by Jess Mikhail. There are lots of amusing pictures with highlighted and capitalised text bubbles to enhance the fast pace and humour.
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster would be an ideal book for use during guided reading for those children who have developed their reading confidence and are ready to discuss how an author's style adds to the meaning of a text. (The old AF 5). There is much to discuss such as the ways in which the text has been broken up with speech bubbles, lists and different sizes of text affect the children's reading and enjoyment of the story. Why Penny's 'brilliant' ideas never seem to work out the way she planned and how do the author and illustrator make the stories so funny? The stories also lend themselves to work on characterisation. Each character has their own distinctive character traits which will make it easy for children in year 3 to identify and therefore, develop their understanding of character traits. Jess Mikhail's illustrations of each of the characters at the front of the book could easily be enlarged for a working wall display identifying the adjectives which describe each of the characters.
In Year 4 the stories would also be a good resource for looking at events from different points of view. Using Anthony Browne's book Voices in the Park as a model children could retell the events from a range of different points of view. So, for example 'Penny Dreadful and the Faithful Sidekick' could be explored from the points of view of Aunt Deedee and Mrs Higgins. What are their stories? Other ideas include writing their own Penny Dreadful story or re-writing one of the stories as a play.
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.